Development Days Conference 2018
February 15th-16th, 2018, House of Sciences and Letters (Tieteidentalo), Helsinki, Finland
Organized by the Finnish Society for Development Research

While sustainability has become a central leitmotif in present day development discourse, the term itself remains highly problematic and contested. Recent developments such as the outcomes following the US elections, government budget cuts, austerity and the ongoing crisis in the Eurozone, as well as the global Agenda 2030 all raise the question to what extent the current sustainability debate actually addresses fundamental political concerns of social, environmental and ecological justice. Politicizing the concept of sustainability implies opening up critical debate on its content and practice in order to reveal its inherent elements of power relations and political contestations. The perennial question remains: can environmental, social and economic sustainability be made truly compatible, as suggested for example by the Agenda 2030; or are these different dimensions of sustainability rather profoundly antagonistic, as the current pace of resource extraction suggests? These competing views are largely determined by conceptions of “cost effectiveness” and “efficiency”, as seen in monetary valuation, percentage targets, indicators and results-based management promulgated by governments and business. Critically inquiring into the question hence requires going beyond more common analyses of the (political) economy of development and its imperatives, and tackling the deep-seated values and valuations underlying and transforming our understandings of resource use and governance as sustainable.

In this conference we aim to examine the politics of sustainability by foregrounding values and moral choices implied by different pathways and current transformations. We want to develop a more articulated analysis between discussions on sustainability – the on-going, problematic and highly uneven processes of extractivism, environmental change, migration, and social differentiation – and their consequences for social, environmental, and ecological justice. We also invite discussions on how alternatives are worked out in different contexts, networks and coalitions. For instance, what role do reporting mechanisms, indicators and measuring systems play in the politics of sustainability – whether linked to poverty, gender, or climate and environment? What do they reveal or obscure and what kinds of change do they promote? How would our value systems need to change in the future?

The conference will serve as a platform to share research findings and experiences as well as to develop new ideas, strategies and tools for re-connecting and rebuilding our societies and re-defining the meanings and practices of “sustainability”. We invite proposals for sessions and workshops that examine broader global phenomena and driving forces, as well as on-the-ground realities of those who are most often and most severely impacted and subordinated, or indeed empowered, by resource flow dynamics. These include indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees, minority and marginalized groups, and relations with “nature” and the “non-human”, both in the global South and the North. We welcome development scholars from a plurality of disciplines and critical theories (including feminist, indigenous, and political ecology approaches) as well as practitioners from a broad range of professional backgrounds to explore ways to engage in progressive politics of building bridges between actors, movements and societies at multiple levels and across global-local binaries.


We are very pleased to announce our keynote speakers for the Development Days 2018 conference: Jesse RibotSian Sullivan and Jun Borras.


To propose a paper/presentation, please send an email to the chair of your chosen working group by December 10th 2017. In your email, please state the following:

your name, affiliation, and email address, the proposed title of your talk, an abstract of max. 300 words, and a note about the proposed format of your contribution (ppt/video/demonstration/other).

We also accept papers/presentations outside of the listed sessions, so if you have a paper/presentation to propose that does not necessarily fit into any of the listed sessions but that you feel is relevant to the conference nonetheless, then please send the above information to the conference organisers at the email address:


A) “Civil society actors and transformative development? Possibilities, challenges and ways forward” chaired by Dr Tiina Kontinen (University of Jyväskylä) and Auli Starck (Kepa ry)

B) “Environment and Vulnerability” chaired by Prof Anja Nygren (University of Helsinki), Mira Käkönen (University of Helsinki) and Dr Anu Lounela (University of Helsinki); commentator Prof Jesse Ribot (University of Illinois)

C) “Translating Global Environmental Goals and Objectives to Local Institutions and Actors” chaired by Dr Sabaheta Ramcilovik-Suominen (University of Eastern Finland); commentator Prof Maria Brockhaus (University of Helsinki)

D) “An Indigenous Understanding of Sustainability” chaired by Dr Laura Siragusa (University of Helsinki) and Ass. Prof Pirjo Virtanen (University of Helsinki)

E) “Paradigms of Development and Sustainability – Locating Politics and Colonial Continuities” chaired by Dr Marjaana Jauhola (University of Helsinki), Dr Paola Minoia (University of Helsinki) and Dr Aili Pyhälä (University of Helsinki)

F) “Psychoanalysing Sustainability and Other Development Fantasies” chaired by Dr Tara van Dijk (Oxford University)


20 October 2017           Deadline for Proposals for Working Groups
31 October 2017           Call for Paper/presentation abstracts
10 December 2017      Deadline for Paper/presentation abstracts
15 December 2017        Notification of accepted Paper abstracts (by WG chairs)
15 Dec 2017 – 12 Feb 2018   Registration for the conference open
14 February 2018         Pre-conference workshops for Master’s and PhD students
15-16 February 2018
   Development Days Conference


Conference Assistant Ella Rouhe (
Chair of the Organizing Committee Aili Pyhälä (